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30th Annual Winter Environmental Conference a Great Success

February 15th, 2019 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

Over 130 members of the River community came together at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel on Saturday, February 2, 2019, for Save The River’s 30th annual Winter Environmental Conference. Conference attendees had the opportunity to hear from and engage with a diverse group of speakers discussing a variety of topics related to the environmental health of the St. Lawrence River.

Peter Annin, author, and director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College, kicked off the conference with an in-depth look at the long history of political maneuvers and water diversions that have proposed sending the resource of Great Lakes freshwater everywhere from Akron to Arizona. Annin discussed the history of the Great Lakes Compact, the legal document that went into effect in 2008, and explored several diversions that already exist and potential future diversions including the controversial Foxconn project that continues to make international headlines. At the lunch hour, Annin hosted an author meet and greet, providing attendees with the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of his recently revised and re-released book, The Great Lakes Water Wars.

Evie Brahmstedt, an Environmental Science and Engineering Ph.D. student at Clarkson University’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment, presented the findings of her ongoing research of mercury in St. Lawrence River wetlands. Working in Dr. Michael Twiss’ Limnology lab, Brahmstedt is studying the amount of mercury present in St. Lawrence River wetlands, where it is going, in what form, and how quickly; as her research continues, Brahmstedt will keep Save The River updated on her findings.

Elaine Tack, a film producer and director and Save The River volunteer, was unable to make the trip to Clayton due to the winter storm but used her filmmaking skills to record and submit her presentation electronically. Tack introduced how she approaches the task of creating a documentary film, allowing the story to reveal itself in the process, and how serendipitous moments sometimes lead to key elements like the film’s title. Following Tack’s introduction video, the audience enjoyed the North Country premiere of “It’s Hard to be a Tern,” her short documentary following the work of Save The River, under the guidance of Dr. Lee Harper, to restore the population of common terns on the St. Lawrence River.

Following the lunch break, Rick Gregware, Save The River Board Director, presented the Friend of the River Award™ posthumously honoring Kenneth Deedy for his longtime contributions to protect the St. Lawrence River. Deedy served on Save The River’s Board of Directors from the mid-1980s to 1990s at a pivotal time in the organization’s history. Shortly before Deedy’s passing in August 2018, one of his final acts of generosity was creating the “Kenneth Deedy Environmental Internship Fund” to benefit the work of Save The River, Thousand Islands Land Trust, and Minna Anthony Common Nature Center and ensuring that these organizations will continue to work together for the common good of the River.

Dr. John Casselman, an adjunct professor in the Biology Department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, provided a fascinating exploration of the elusive American eel, a species of great historical importance to the region that has faced a catastrophic decline in population. Once representing one half of the inshore fish biomass of the St. Lawrence River system, the American eel is now classified as an Endangered by Ontario and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Chad Lord, policy director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lake Coalition, discussed one of the greatest threats to the health of the Great Lakes, Asian carp. Lord provided a historical exploration of why Asian carp were brought to the United States, how they escaped to open water systems, and the characteristics of the four Asian carp species. Lord discussed the components of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) proposed plan to block Asian carp at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam on the Des Plaines River southwest of Chicago, Illinois. The USACE plan is currently open to public comment and Save The River encouraged audience members to sign petitions at their tables in support of the plan.

Despite the sobering findings that she discussed, Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, Ph.D., Sustainability Coordinator at Penn State Behrend, brought great energy to her afternoon presentation “The Perils of Plastics.” Mason discussed some of her recent studies that showed the presence of micro and nano-plastics in beer, tap water, and bottled water and discussed the emerging studies of microplastic that is shed from fabrics. Previous research by Dr. Mason led to the federal ban of microbeads in consumer goods like toothpaste and face wash. Mason concluded her presentation with a rallying cry that when it comes to plastic in our environment, “Although we are the problem…that also means, we are the solution.”

The day concluded with an overview of two new sustainability initiatives gaining momentum in River communities. Robin Lucas, Save The River Board Director, discussed the goals of Save The River’s Replace Single-Use Plastics program, including educating community members and businesses about the harm caused by single-use plastic items like bags, utensils, straws, and take out containers while seeking environmentally-friendly, affordable, reusable alternatives. Liz Price-Kellogg and Monica Behan introduced All In the Same Boat, a new sustainability movement that encourages conversation and education to transform our communities. Following the conference, All In the Same Boat hosted a free community event at the Clayton Opera House where attendees screened a short film and brought their own cup in order to enjoy complimentary beverages.

“Preparations for the winter conference begin in July and August, so for months, we have been excited to bring these speakers to the River to share their vast knowledge. Throughout the day we heard positive feedback about the quality of the outstanding speakers and their presentations,” said John Peach, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River executive director. “We’re proud to put together this important event and showcase an array of River-related topics from protecting our freshwater resource, to studying contaminants like mercury and plastics in our water, to the status of endangered and threatened species, and what we can do about the of invasive species.”

For the first time, Save The River was able to offer a live stream feed of the entire conference. Working with Steve Weed Productions, the speakers were able to reach an even wider audience with one person tuning in all the way from the Dominican Republic. The video of the conference will be made available to all, both in its entirety and broken down into separate clips of each speaker; links will be shared on Save The River’s social media pages, website, and through their eNewsletter.

The Winter Environmental Conference was made possible through the support of business sponsors including Uncle Sam Boat Tours, Antique Boat America, Wellesley Island Building Supply, Horizon Marina, Converse Laboratories, Inc., The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, Sotheby’s International Realty, Bach & Co., and Ed Huck Marine and many individual sponsors.

Next year’s Winter Environmental Conference will be held on February 1, 2020.

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American Eels in the St. Lawrence River System – Going, Going, Gone?

January 29th, 2019 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

At this Saturday’s 30th Annual Winter Environmental Conference, Dr. John Casselman will speak about the American eel, a species that was once very abundant in the St. Lawrence River system, making up half of the inshore fish biomass and was of great importance to First Nations communities. Learn about the American eel, an elusive and highly migratory species that spawns in the Sargasso Sea and matures in the continental waters of North America but whose population has catastrophically declined in recent years. What is unique about this important indicator species and are they going, going, gone?

Dr. John Casselman is an adjunct professor in the Biology Department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Casselman is a fisheries ecologist and environmental physiologist who has numerous publications in the primary literature, reports, and book chapters on numerous aspects of fisheries science. He has published and presented widely on eels, climate change, fish and fisheries and has received numerous awards, including, in 2008, the American Fisheries Society prestigious Award of Excellence.

Other speakers at the Conference will include:

  • Peter Annin will analyze the future of Great Lakes water diversion management.
  • Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason will discuss the realities of plastic pollution right here, right now in the Great Lakes region.
  • Evie Brahmstedt will describe her ongoing research about mercury in St. Lawrence wetlands.
  • Elaine Tack will present It’s Hard to be a Tern, her short film exploring Save The River’s common tern restoration program.
  • Chad Lord will explore the threat of Asian carp and what can be done to keep these invasive fish out of the Great Lakes.

Hear Dr. Casselman speak Saturday, February 2 at the WEC, hosted at Clayton’s 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel. Call (315) 686-2010 to register; $50 conference fee includes morning coffee and pastries, lunch, afternoon snack, and light appetizers during cocktail hour (cash bar). Click here for the registration form. 

New this year: for those unable to make the trip to Clayton, we will be hosting a professional live stream of the WEC. In order to support this exciting new offering, there is a suggested donation of $25. The hyperlink for the live stream will be emailed the week of the conference.

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Senate Protects St. Lawrence River & Great Lakes

April 26th, 2018 | Posted by Lee

Senate Votes to Protect the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes: Defeats Vessel Incidental Discharge Act

Last Wednesday, after a tremendous outpouring of opposition led by Save The River members and many others across the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence region, the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 (S.1129). This bill contained a harmful provision, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), that would have weakened rules protecting clean water and shift the oversight of ballast water discharge from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the U.S. Coast Guard.

If S.1129 with the VIDA amendment had passed, the health of the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes would have been put in serious jeopardy with the threat of new aquatic invasive species introduced via ballast water discharges. Learn more here.

Your calls and emails were enormously important in defeating this harmful legislation. Thank you!

Join us in thanking the Great Lakes region Senators who voted to block this bill from going forward; call the Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121 or send a message of thanks via social media (sample message below):

Thank you [insert your Senator(s)] for voting to protect our #StLawrenceRiver, #GreatLakes & #CleanWater by opposing VIDA! This bad bill would have weakened #invasivespecies protections. @SaveTheRiver member.

Senators to thank:

Minnesota – @AmyKlobuchar and @SenTinaSmith

Wisconsin – @SenatorBaldwin

Illinois – @SenatorDurbin (Sen. Duckworth did not vote either way)

Michigan – @SenStabenow and @SenGaryPeters

Ohio – @SenSherrodBrown

New York – @SenGillibrand and @SenSchumer

Since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, ocean-going freighters carrying contaminated ballast water have introduced 100+ aquatic invasive species to the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. Invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, round gobies, and the fish-killing VHS virus have caused irreparable environmental and economic damage to the River and the entire Great Lakes regions.

For 40 years Save The River has been the voice for the St. Lawrence. We will always stand to protect the health of the River but we can’t do it without your support.
Stand with us as the voice for the St. Lawrence River by becoming a member or making a donation today.

 

A copy of our latest annual report may be obtained upon request at 409 Riverside Dr, Clayton, NY 13624 or from the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, 28 Liberty Street, 19th Flr, New York, NY 10005

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Water levels slightly lower than this time last year.

March 28th, 2018 | Posted by Lee

Water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are currently slightly lower than they were at this time last year.

Last year the Lake and River went on to set record highs in May, June and July due to a succession of unprecedented, intense rainfall events throughout their watersheds. This lead many property owners and politicians to intensely criticize the newly enacted Plan 2014 and the International Joint Commission (IJC) for not doing more to alleviate the problems high water caused.

In contrast, at this time in 2012 the levels were higher, higher even than last year, but as the region experienced an unusually dry spring and summer, levels on the Lake and River went down and stayed lower than average for the rest of the year. This lead many property owners and politicians to intensely criticize the (IJC) for not doing more to alleviate the problems low water caused.

What was missed by the critics in 2017 and 2012 and in every extreme water level year (high or low) since 1958 is the fact that no management plan will give us the tools to fine tune the levels of waterbodies as vast a Great Lake or to control the outcome of natural events – rain, snow, wind – that influence them.

The only constants across the years, other than the criticism of the water levels plan in place at that time, are the variability of the weather and the challenges of accurately predicting it long term. One other notable constant – the reminder that we need to plan carefully how we utilize the shoreline of these vast, dynamic waterbodies.

The editorial board of the Watertown Daily Times​ has a good take on the current management of Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River levels in a Sunday editorial.

The editorial board acknowledges that, while it is still too early to predict where the water level will be this summer, there is no doubt that the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) in . . “following the recommended practices of Plan 2014 in overseeing outflows this winter . . .have allowed for a more orderly discharge of water in a manner that ensures safety.” The ILOSLRB has done this while achieving the goal of the Plan of “Improving the health of these waterways and creating an environment more suitable to wildlife will benefit all of us.,” as the editorial points out.

On a lake and river so clearly affected by intense and highly variable weather it sounds like they are doing a difficult job well.

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Celebrate World Water Day with Save The River

March 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

On March 22 we celebrate Water World Water Day. This year’s #WorldWaterDay focuses on how we can use nature to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century.

Did you know that an estimated two-thirds of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900 as a result of human activity? Wetlands naturally filter toxins and sediments from water and help protect against floods by trapping and slowly releasing surface water, rain, and snowmelt.

Nature-based solutions like restoring wetlands, reconnecting rivers to flood plains, and planting trees to replenish forests are sustainable and cost-effective methods to fight the effects of climate change. The answer is in nature!

At Save The River / Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper we’re all about a swimmable, drinkable, fishable St. Lawrence now and for generations to come. Join us! Click here to become a member or make a donation today. 

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Clean Water Safeguards Eliminated in Must-Pass Budget Bills

March 13th, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

Save The River will always stand in opposition to attacks on our nation’s most vital resource: clean water. We joined 115+ groups around the country urging our senators and congresspeople to oppose damaging ideological riders in spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2018: http://ow.ly/W1UR30iV3CW

Outdoor recreation is a way of life in New York, especially here on the St. Lawrence River. We can’t afford to eliminate conservation safeguards that protect our waters & wildlife. The dirty water riders attached to the upcoming federal budget vote will do just that.

The dirty water riders attached to the upcoming budget vote will undermine protections for drinking water that 1 in 3 Americans depend on, eliminate conservation safeguards that protect our waters & wildlife, and cut the public out of the decision making process.

Raise your voices to New York’s congressional leaders: ask them to reject all policy riders attacking safeguards for the St. Lawrence River and all streams, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and other waters that our families, communities, and economy depend on. Call them at (202) 224-3121.

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Director’s Waypoints, Winter Conference Edition

February 20th, 2018 | Posted by Lee Willbanks

Go to this edition of Director’s Waypoints

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Thank You to the Sponsors of Our 29th Winter Environmental Conference

February 6th, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

Thank you to our sponsors of the 29th Winter Environmental Conference. Their support makes the conference a regionally significant event promoting the health of the St. Lawrence River. Click here if you would like your business to support a healthy St. Lawrence River by supporting our annual Winter Environmental Conference. Our 30th Winter Environmental Conference will be February 2, 2019. Click here for updates.

 

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Agenda Set for Save The River’s 29th Winter Environmental Conference

January 30th, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

Saturday, February 3rd, attendees of this annual conference focused on the health of the St. Lawrence River will hear from a diverse group of speakers about a wide range of topics. Ann Ward, Save The River Board Member Emerita, will provide a welcome address reflecting on Save The River’s 40th anniversary. 

Click here for the conference agenda.

Commissioner Lana Pollack, U.S. Section Chair for the International Joint Commission (IJC), will speak about Plan 2014 after one year of extreme climate conditions.

Bill Werick, retired water resources planner and technical adviser to the IJC, will speak about the adaptive management component of Plan 2014.

David Bolduc, executive director of Green Marine, will speak about Green Marine’s environmental certification program for the maritime transportation industry. 

Henry Lickers, Ph.D., Environmental Science Officer for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Environment Program, and Michael Twiss, Clarkson University professor and member of the IJC Great Lakes Science Advisory Board, will provide a unique dialogue about the St. Lawrence River as habitat from native and non-native perspectives.

Lee Harper, Ph.D., president of Riveredge Environmental, Inc., and Michael Morgan, NYS DEC Project Manager, will explore the opportunities and challenges restoring and maintaining habitats for bird populations along the St. Lawrence River.

John Farrell, Ph.D., SUNY ESF professor and director of the Thousand Islands Biological Station, and Scott Schlueter, fish biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Program Manager for the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund, will discuss their respective work studying fish of the St. Lawrence River along with restoration and conservation efforts being made to enhance populations.

Eric Sunday, Akwesasne Cultural Restoration Program, will close the conference with a presentation about the efforts to improve awareness and education of the community about the Sturgeon population and its cultural ties with the Mohawks of Akwesasne.

Registration for this year’s Conference closes Friday, February 2nd. To secure a place, it is best to call the Save The River office at (315) 686-2010.

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Trends in St. Lawrence Fish Populations and Efforts to Enhance the Fishery

January 29th, 2018 | Posted by Margaret Hummel

John Farrell, Ph.D., SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Director of the Thousand Islands Biological Station, and Scott Schlueter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Program Manager for the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund (FEMRF) will speak about trends in St. Lawrence River fish populations and efforts to enhance the fishery, focusing on the conservation efforts for focal species. 

Long- term environmental monitoring of fish populations reveal the effects of aquatic invasive species and environmental variation. Apex predators in the St. Lawrence River, including muskellunge, have declined substantially following outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic septicemia. Restoration work (both species and habitat levels) holds promise to enhance populations within environmental constraints. The FEMRF is a settlement fund resulting from the St. Lawrence Power Project relicensing with a goal to benefit the fishery resources in the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River Basin and continue research on the American Eel and other species that may be affected by the Project.

John Farrell is a Professor of Aquatic and Fisheries Science and Director of the Thousand Islands Biological Station on Governors Island in Clayton, New York. He has been engaged in aquatic research and management on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes for nearly 30 years and has mentored numerous graduate and undergraduate students and has published and lectured extensively on fisheries, wetlands, and aquatic ecology.

Scott Schlueter is a Fish Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from SUNY-ESF. Scott has spent more than 20 years working on St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes fisheries issues, with a special interest in the conservation of Lake Sturgeon and American Eel.

Other speakers at the Conference will include:

  • Lana Pollack will speak about Plan 2014 after one year of extreme climate conditions.
  • Ann Ward will provide the welcome address marking Save The River’s 40th anniversary.
  • Bill Werick will speak about the adaptive management of Plan 2014.
  • David Bolduc will speak about Green Marine’s environmental certification for the maritime transportation industry.
  • Lee Harper and Michael Morgan will speak about St. Lawrence River Fowl including Common and Black Terns, grassland birds, waterfowl, and raptors.
  • Henry Lickers and Michael Twiss will speak about the St. Lawrence River as habitat from a native and non-native perspective.
  • Eric Sunday will speak about efforts to improve awareness and education of the community about the Sturgeon population and its cultural ties with the Mohawks of Akwesasne.

Click here for Conference registration form or call 315-686-2010 to register. $50 registration fee includes morning coffee, lunch, and light hors d’oeuvres at the cocktail reception (cash bar).

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